So the Naxos Caruso
Edition has reached Caruso’s recordings
of 1919-20, rounding the disc off with
an appendix of Caruso-related tracks
and a final glance back to the beginning,
a 1902 ‘Studenti, udite’, Caruso’s first
recording for the Gramophone Company
Ltd. In the latter’s case, the surface
noise is made all the more obvious because
of the cleaner sides that precede it.
Yet it makes sense to include it here.
Interesting to have a track ‘about’
Caruso, too - ‘My Cousin Caruso’ - here
sung/intoned/spoken and generally hammed
to bits by ‘vocalist’ (the best description,
possibly) Bill Murray.
Hugh Griffiths gives
a detailed account of Caruso’s illnesses.
Caruso made his last recordings at the
age of 47; shortly thereafter he was
dead. A tragedy. Yet, his recorded output
is wide enough for us to enjoy him in
a varied repertoire, and we should be
ever grateful to Ward Marston for the
care he has exercised in his restorations
for this laudable project.
The first track chosen,
Nina (Ciampi) is a remarkably
funereal way to open the disc; so much
so that the outpouring of melody that
in De Crescenzo’s Première
caresse is doubly welcome - just
the sort of thing Caruso was (rightly)
famous for. Caruso has the ability to
convince you as you listen that he really
is singing music of substance, even
when, objectively considered, that is
stretching belief. He sings the terribly
sad, Senza nisciuno as if he
is living every nuance.
The aria from Gomes’
Salvator Rosa was originally
for soprano (although you’d never guess
it, so strong is Caruso’s conviction).
In fairness it sounds very much, musically,
like the songs around it, being perhaps
a rung or two up the musicality ladder.
As seems to be Naxos’s habit, excerpts
from opera or liturgical works are strewn
among the popular songs, where they
either elevate proceedings or give contrast,
depending on one’s opinion. The Handel
excerpt (‘Ombra mai fu’) is very much
as one might expect - reverential, with
Mantovani-like strings in the background.
It would be very difficult indeed to
guess that this is Handel until the
famous orchestral introduction arrives
and even then, it is sickly-sweet. Yet
Caruso with his honeyed legato makes
all that seem irrelevant. Much more
impressive, though, is the famous Act
IV, ‘Rachel, quand du Seigneur’ from
La Juive (Halévy). Fully
expressive, Caruso utilises a deep,
full timbre to project the intense atmosphere.
Meyerbeer is, of course,
sung in Italian (an excerpt from Act
III of ‘L’Africana’). Caruso’s sense
of line and pacing is magnificent -
a pity this is immediately juxtaposed
with some over-inflated, dirge-like
The liturgical excerpts
(from Rossini’s Petite Messe Solenelle)
contain a fair amount of passion (especially
at the words ‘Jesu Christe’), yet the
‘Domine Deus’ does rather begin as if
it could issue forth from any park bandstand
you care to mention; the ‘Crucifixus’
flows well, with nice legato from Caruso.
The various songs are
given the full Caruso treatment - full
of suave phrasings or lively swaggers.
His upper register is full of tone,
his phrasing curved by a dance-like
An interesting issue,
then, if not one I shall reach for every
also review by Robert Farr